About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a major health concern for women in the United States. This malignancy will occur in an estimated 190,000 women this year. It is the most frequently occurring cancer and is the second leading cause of death for women with cancer.

The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer increases with age. Additional breast cancer risk factors are:

  • Inherited genetic mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • A personal or family history of breast cancer
  • High breast tissue density (which is a mammographic measure of the amount of glandular breast tissue relative to fatty tissue in the breast), and biopsy-confirmed hyperplasia
  • A long menstrual history (menstrual periods that started early or ended late in life)
  • Obesity after menopause
  • Recent use of oral contraceptives, postmenopausal hormone therapy (especially combined estrogen and progestin therapy)
  • Never having children or having one’s first child after age 30

Breastfeeding, moderate or vigorous physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight are all associated with lower risk of breast cancer.

Another breast cancer risk factor is mutations in the inherited susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.  These mutations account for approximately 5 percent of all breast cancer cases. Women with a strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer should consider genetic counseling to determine if testing is an appropriate option.

The earliest sign of breast cancer is usually an abnormality detected on a mammogram before symptoms can be felt by the woman or her health care provider. A few physical breast cancer symptoms may include:

  • A breast lump, thickening, swelling, distortion or tenderness;
  • Skin irritation or dimpling, and nipple pain;
  • Scaliness, ulceration, retraction, or spontaneous discharge.

General breast pain is commonly caused by benign conditions and usually is not the first symptom of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

The American Cancer Society recommends the following early-detection guidelines:

  • Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40.
  • Clinical breast exam should be part of a periodic health exam, about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women 40 and older.
  • Women should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care providers. Breast self-exam should be learned and used by women when they reach age 20.
  • Women with breast cancer risk factors should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier, having additional tests (i.e., breast ultrasound and MRI), or having more frequent exams.

Mammography is especially valuable as a cancer-detection tool because it can identify breast cancer at an early stage, usually before physical symptoms develop. Numerous studies have shown that early detection of breast cancer saves lives and increases treatment options. Recent declines in breast cancer mortality are attributed to the regular use of screening mammography as well as to improvements in treatments.

Multispecialty Team

NorthShore University HealthSystem physicians and the team at the Kellogg Cancer Center work collaboratively and are dedicated to putting patients and families at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Every week, our multidisciplinary team meets to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. This meeting of the minds provides each patient with an individualized care plan to create the path for the most optimal outcome. Our approach emphasizes open communication, collaborating with each other personally and through one of the most advanced electronic medical records systems in the country.

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